Spoiler alert: restorative yoga in particular has some noteworthy benefits for cancer patients!
I thought it was worth writing about since I see a lot of studies like this go under the radar.
This study looked at two different forms of yoga to see how they affected cancer-related cognitive impairment. As a registered yoga teacher and physician specializing in cancer support, I was very excited to read this study!
But first, what is cancer-related cognitive impairment?
Sometimes referred to as "chemo brain", this is a condition that some cancer patients experience related to their cancer or cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Up to one-third of patients experience cognitive impairment after completing cancer treatment, a staggering statistic!
It can affect a person's memory, thinking, and concentration, making it harder to focus or remember things. Imagine feeling a bit foggy or mentally slowed down.
This happens because chemotherapy affects the energy-producing units in our cells called mitochondria. Our mitochondria can have a reduced ability to produce energy molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
It's as if the once-efficient powerhouses now operate on reduced power, lowering our energy supply.
Chemotherapy can also trigger inflammation within the body. Inflammatory signals can reach the brain and disrupt its normal functioning. This disruption can lead to cognitive difficulties, akin to a storm unsettling the tranquility of a previously serene environment.
In this study at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients, the participants were randomized to a restorative yoga program or a vigorous yoga program.
Think of restorative yoga as a gentle, nurturing embrace for both the body and the mind. It involves postures and movements that prioritize relaxation, deep breathing, and fostering a sense of inner calm. The emphasis here is on creating a peaceful and meditative space, allowing participants to unwind and release stress.
In contrast, a vigorous yoga program could be likened to an invigorating dance between movement and breath. You may have heard of Vinyasa Flow or Power Yoga, these are some examples of "vigorous" yoga practices.
This branch involves more physically demanding postures and sequences, encouraging participants to build strength, flexibility, and endurance. The synchronized flow of breath and movement ignites a dynamic energy, helping participants feel revitalized and connected to their bodies.
Each of these yoga paths, restorative and vigorous, offers its unique set of benefits, and this study aims to unveil how they influence cognitive function for cancer patients.
I think if I were to simplify the results:
For women doing gentle restorative yoga, their overall cognitive function improved from good to even better after 12 and 24 weeks. They also got better at tasks like thinking quickly and solving problems. However, their memory and accumulated knowledge didn't show big changes.
On the other hand, women doing more intense yoga didn't show big improvements in overall thinking skills, problem-solving, or memory. But, their accumulated knowledge improved a bit.
The intense yoga group did better in accumulated knowledge tasks after 24 weeks. Other differences between the groups weren't very clear.
So what are my big-picture takeaways?
For any cancer patients who haven't tried restorative yoga before, I think this is something worth trying to help fight some of that chemo brain!
In my free time, I've been developing a specialized restorative yoga program for my cancer patients on my YouTube channel. This program is designed to provide you with free, accessible, and effective practices that can help address cognitive challenges and enhance your overall well-being.
And even though this study only recruited breast and ovarian cancer patients, I think anyone with cancer or a history of cancer could benefit.
If you're interested in joining this journey towards improved cognitive function and a better quality of life, I invite you to subscribe or follow to stay updated with the latest content.
Links to the studies included in this blog post: